Scripture: Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” Numbers 27:15-17 ESV
Observation: In preparation for taking possession of the Promised Land, Yahweh first establishes precedence regarding the inheritance order of the land by tribe and family succession (chapter 26 and first half of 27). Next, the Lord commands Moses to go up the mountain of Abarim overlooking Canaan to enjoy his last moments of life gazing upon the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. Reiterating his admonition of Moses after Meribah, God tells him that he will gather him to his people (vv.12-14).
At this point, Moses thinks beyond himself and earnestly asks the Lord to appoint a new leader from the congregation so that Israel might not be a flock without a shepherd (above verses). God honors Moses’ request and commands him to lay hands on Joshua (in whom the Spirit now indwells) and commission him before Eleazar, the priest, in the sight of the people, thereby vesting Joshua with his authority (vv.18-21). Moses carefully follows the Lord’s instructions to ensure the proper transfer of leadership (vv.22-23).
Of further note, we gain more details of this event from the book of Deuteronomy. This mountain in the region of Abarim is Mount Nebo (3:27 and 34:1), located at the top of Pisgah (34:1). And Moses pleaded with Yahweh to grant him the opportunity to walk through Promised Land, but the Lord refused to negotiate and silenced Moses (3:23-26).
Takeaway: Moses, like many of us, held out hope that the Lord might change his mind given Moses’ course correction since Meribah. Even though the Lord would not reverse his decision, he did show grace in allowing Moses to envision the conquest of the next generation and then provide an eased transition to his heavenly kingdom. And Moses blessed the Lord with his petition for a replacement leader—thinking beyond himself to the needs of his people (a true sign of godly leadership).
As for the transition of leadership, the process does not follow modern practices of popular election (democracy) or bloodline succession (monarchy). Instead, the Lord appointed Israel’s leader (theocracy). The process reminds Israel that Yahweh is king, and Moses and Joshua are merely his agents: a shepherd to lead his sheep (as Moses notes in our passage). And God’s replacement shepherd, Joshua, would make the most sense. As an apprentice of Moses in the forty-year wilderness wandering, Joshua learned the ways of the Lord and proved to be battle-tested. But there’s one more critical element to his appointment: his name. Joshua means “God is salvation” in Hebrew. And twelve hundred years later, our Father would commission Jesus (a derivation of the name Joshua) to save us from our enemy, sin, and lead us to our spiritual Promised Land.
So how does this story apply to us? Paul and Peter remind us to submit to our governmental leaders appointed under God’s sovereign will to promote civility. But we must not forget there is only one King and one Savior: Christ Jesus. And he is the only Good Shepherd who will never abandon his sheep. So while we submit to those whom God has placed in authority over us, even our godliest pastors and spiritual leaders are merely agents who struggle with sin just as much as we do. Thus, we must first and foremost put our trust and devotion in King Jesus, our God of salvation.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for sending your Son into our world to lead his and future disciples to our Promised Land through the continuing guidance of your Holy Spirit. Would you please help us to find a balance of submitting to earthly leaders under the direction of your Holy Spirit, all the while trusting in our God of Salvation? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling